We wanted to run a field test on the new ‘Art Series’ Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM lens and see how it performs ‘in the field’. We asked Mark Bauer to run the test, here are his findings.
Sigma is one of the best-known manufacturers of third party lenses and has an excellent reputation for producing budget alternatives to the camera makers’ own lenses. Recently, however, with their ‘Art’ range, they have been establishing a reputation as maker of very high quality optics – the 50mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.4 have attracted high praise from a number of reviewers. A wide angle prime in the same line-up has naturally attracted the attention of landscape photographers – and with its fast maximum aperture, it should especially appeal to those who are interested in astrophotography.
The lens has 15 elements in 11 groups and three low-dispersion and four special low-dispersion elements. This compares very favourably to its main competitors – Nikon and Canon. It also features an ultrasonic motor, full-time manual focus override and 9 aperture blades. It’s a well-constructed lens, too, combining metal and high-quality plastics. It has a generous manual focus ring, which has a very smooth action – important for landscape photographers, who often prefer to focus manually (frequently in conjunction with live view). The only negative point in comparison with the completion is that the Sigma does not feature weather sealing.
I tested the lens on my Canon 5D Mk III. These days, I generally use the Canon 16-35mm f/4 for my wide angle work, but have used a number of high quality primes in the past, including the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 and Canon 24mm f/1.4. In use, the lens performs well. Autofocus, should you need it, is very quick and silent. Manual focus is especially easy, thanks to the wide maximum aperture of f/1.4. This gives a very bright viewfinder image and because of the limited depth of field, makes it really easy to see when subjects snap into focus, both in the viewfinder and in live view. It’s probably best not to try to rely on the lens’s depth of field scale, however, as the distance between the markings is too small for it to be relied upon – though this is common for modern lenses. Unusually, the minimum aperture is only f/16, rather than f/22. Some photographers may find this a slight limitation, although many try to avoid stopping down this far anyway, due to the effects of diffraction.
Of course, what everyone really wants to know is: what is the image quality like?
In a word, outstanding. This lens certainly maintains the standards set by the previous releases in the Art line. It’s bitingly sharp between f/5.6 and f/11, from the centre right into the corners. This is exactly where landscape photographers want it, as they usually stop lenses down a little to get the depth of field they want, but if you like to photograph the night sky, you will also be interested to know how it performs at wider apertures. At f/1.4, it’s pretty sharp, but with some softening in the corners, but once stopped down to f/2.8, both the centre and corners are much improved. This is great news – I’m lucky enough to travel to Iceland two or three times a year to photograph the northern lights, and I generally shoot with a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8. This is a decent lens, but not a great performer wide open, so next time I may well take the Sigma 24mm with me.
Distortion is very well-controlled, with just a small amount of barrel distortion at the edges. I didn’t notice any chromatic aberration, either. This is a definite advantage over Canon wide angles, which tend to be prone to cyan/red fringing on high contrast edges, though I’d like to shoot with the lens for a little longer before drawing any definite conclusions. Some vignetting was evident, though probably no more than with comparable lenses and this is one lens characteristic which is extremely easy to correct in post-processing.
I wasn’t able to do any head-to-head comparisons with Canon’s 24mm f/1.4, but my instinct is that this lens delivers results which are at least as good. (I’m not a Nikon user, so have not had a chance to shoot with the Nikon 24mm). Given that the street price of the Sigma is around £699/$849, compared to £1224/$1549 for the Canon and £1,465/$2,064 for the Nikon, unless weather sealing is an absolute deal breaker, it seems like a no-brainer.
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